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Why the Nickel in a Nickel Is Worth More Than the Coin

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Illustration by Elias Stein

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The nickel is worth more than a dime. Nickel prices, for the metal not the coin, spiked to $100,000 per metric ton on the London Metal Exchange this past week before trading was halted. The metal had traded around $25,000 a ton before the run-up, when it cost the U.S. Mint more than five cents to make a nickel.

At $100,000 a ton, a nickel, composed of 25% nickel and 75% copper, is worth about 16 cents in metal, or “melt” value, Barron’s estimates. Each nickel weighs five grams–appropriately so–and contains 1.25 grams of nickel and 3.75 grams of copper. At $100,000 a ton, there’s 12.5 cents of nickel in a coin and about 3.75 cents of copper, which is trading at about $10,000 a metric ton.

At $50,000 a ton for nickel, there would be 6.25 cents of nickel in the nickel, and its total metal value would be about a dime. In the last fiscal year ending in September, the Mint spent 8.52 cents to produce a nickel, with nickel metal averaging about $17,500 a metric ton. Pennies also cost more to create, about two cents, than their face value, while other U.S. coins have less metal than face value. Just so you know, the Mint prohibits melting down pennies and nickels for their metal value.

In its annual report, the Mint wrote: “The unit cost for both pennies (2.10 cents) and nickels (8.52 cents) remained above face value for the 16th consecutive fiscal year. Compared to last year, FY 2021 average spot prices for nickel increased 28.1 percent to $17,503.10 per tonne, average copper prices also increased 48.2 percent to $8,676.77 per tonne, and average zinc prices increased 27.9 percent to $2,821.12 per tonne.”

Last Week
The ‘R’ Word

Oil breached $130 a barrel, gold broke $2,000 an ounce, and the dollar rose. Global trade slowed and talk of recession was in the air. China forecast 5.5% growth, the lowest since it started counting in 1994. The Nasdaq slipped into a bear market and the Dow entered a correction. Wednesday saw a big bounce, then fell on February’s 7.9% inflation number. On the week, the Dow industrials fell 2%, to 32,944.19; the S&P skidded 2.9%, to 4204.31; and the Nasdaq Composite tumbled 3.5%, to 12843.81.

Russia at the Gates

Russia shelled hospitals and evacuation routes out of Ukraine, as migrant numbers soared past 2.5 million. Russia regrouped as Ukraine held off its advances on cities.


JPMorgan Chase

dropped Russian debt from fixed-income indexes as U.S. companies–from


McDonald’s

to


Goldman Sachs

to


Mastercard

and


Visa

–exited. A plan to redirect Polish MiG fighters to Ukraine through the U.S. collapsed. President Biden called for ending Russia’s preferred trading status with the U.S., meaning higher tariffs.

The Oil Mess

The White House banned imports of Russian oil, gas, and coal. The amounts are small, but the U.K. joined the ban, and Europe promised to lower Russian gas by two-thirds by year-end. The U.S. discussed reducing sanctions with Venezuela for more oil and tried to lobby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to lift output, but, The Wall Street Journal reported, was rebuffed over differences on Yemen and Iran, though U.A.E. then urged OPEC to pump more. Meanwhile, talks over a nearly completed Iran nuclear pact, which would free oil, stalled over Russian objections, then resumed.

Nickel’s Short Squeeze

Go electric? Not so fast. Nickel prices more than tripled in a short squeeze, prompting a trading suspension at the London Metal Exchange. Nickel is used in EV batteries; Russia produces 17% of the world’s supply. A Chinese nickel company, Tsingshan Holding, nearly collapsed under $8 billion in margin calls.

Tech Rolls On


Apple

presented a new high-end desktop machine, and introduced an inexpensive SE iPhone with 5G.


Amazon.com

said it would split its stock 20 for 1 and begin a $10 billion share buyback.

Annals of Deal Making


Oasis Petroleum

and


Whiting Petroleum

agreed to a $6 billion merger…Carl Icahn sold his last shares in


Occidental Petroleum

as


Berkshire Hathaway

raised its stake to 11.2%, worth $6.5 billion…


Chewy

co-founder Ryan Cohen took a stake in


Bed Bath & Beyond
,
and the stock surged. Cohen’s earlier investment in


GameStop
,
where he’s now chairman, ignited the meme stock craze…


Alphabet
‘s
Google announced the acquisition of cybersecurity firm


Mandiant

for $5.4 billion…Major League Baseball players and owners agreed to a new labor contract. Next up: spring training.

Write to Andrew Bary at andrew.bary@barrons.com

General Electric, Amazon, and the New Wave of Stock Buybacks

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